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Prosecution Strategies in Domestic Violence Felonies: An Exploratory Study

NCJ Number
Date Published
August 1998
732 pages
This qualitative content analysis of 50,000 pages of transcript from 41 felony trials examined prosecution strategies in domestic violence cases.
All trials occurred in Iowa between 1989 and 1995; they all resulted in convictions, almost one-third of which were for lesser offenses than originally charged. The primary hypothesis of the study was that criminal justice decision makers can make better decisions when they understand the context of the violent relationship. Trial transcripts were coded and analyzed for prosecution themes, defense themes, "story-telling" techniques, evidentiary and procedural issues, and evidence of prior violence or dynamics of abuse. Many cases included evidence of defendants' "other acts" (prior violence or previous convictions). In many cases, the defense attempted to disparage the victim's character (drug use, lifestyle choices, sexual history, or truthfulness). Two cases involved expert testimony about the dynamics of abuse in a violent relationship, so as to explain victim actions that did not seem typical for someone who had been repeatedly physically abused. Based on the story model of juror decision making, the cases suggest that an understanding of the dynamics of abuse can affect decisions the jury made; success, however, may depend on the quality of the "storytelling." In cases that resulted in convictions on lesser offenses, prosecutors did not tell the "story of violence" as quickly, concisely, and graphically as the prosecutors in cases that yielded convictions on original charges. This was true regardless of the evidence used to show the dynamics of abuse or any prior violence by the defendant against the victim or others, and regardless of attempts by the defense to exploit myths about domestic violence. Further research is recommended to test the hypothesis. 13 tables, 265 references, and appended Iowa prosecution protocol

Date Published: August 1, 1998